2015 Acura RLX Review

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The 2015 Acura RLX is an understated luxury full-sizer that puts emphasis on unique technical solutions instead of all-out style and flair.

The 2015 RLX is a polite, well-composed premium sedan, a contender in the ring with the Cadillac XTS and Lincoln MKS—but not crazy, not flagrantly out of skew, not brilliant enough in any single facet to run any old-money names off the VIP list.That's despite thoughtful new safety gear and nifty handling tricks that obscure its front-drive running gear.

The RLX is Acura's flagship sedan; but it's not the sort of car that screams for attention and recognition. It doesn't feel like a car for extroverts, even though its performance is impressive and satisfying. It's one of the more subtle luxury cars, with an understated design and an interior that's relatively free of gimmickry—and that altogether, we think, makes the RLX an intriguing outlier in the market. 

The RLX is a polite, well-composed premium sedan, a contender in the ring with the Cadillac XTS and Lincoln MKS—but not crazy, not flagrantly out of skew, not brilliant enough in any single facet to run any of the old-money names off the VIP list. That's despite some thoughtful new safety gear and some nifty handling tricks that obscure its front-drive running gear.

This is a sedan that has understatement down pat, although it runs lean on sizzle. The design borrows from the BMW 5-Series, adding a softer Acura boomerang of chrome to the front end, and a hint of muscle over its front fenders. It's a no-drama zone from LED headlight to LED taillight, elegant in the same way the cabin is pretty and handsomely constructed, orchestrated instead of inspired. The leathers and grains are better than any Acura we've sampled. They just need a touch of alchemy.

The name's only two vowels away from "relax," and that's a clear predictor of how the Acura RLX tackles the road. It's up only 10 horsepower in a crazy age where the Volvo-cum-Lincoln MKS has 365 hp--and the Hyundai Genesis, 429 hp. On principle it gets the best gas mileage in the class, by Acura's estimates, and in practice, it feels it, with ample but steady acceleration, woken up at 3000 rpm with some intake snarl that's bound to be remixed in 12-inch form on the upcoming NSX's soundtrack.

The base front-drive RLX skips the adaptive suspensions common in the class and instead goes for a well-tuned set of coils, links, and digressive dampers. It's a setup that is well aware of what the RLX wants to be: a mildly cushy cruiser, with only token amounts of road-surface feedback. That's what makes the RLX's electric steering system so unusual: it has actuators on the back wheels that work in concert to deliver rear-wheel steering, an effect that lends stability to the RLX on the interstate but sounds like an exotic solution for a car without high-performance intentions.

Those who want stronger performance will be steered toward the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD model. While we've driven this model, Acura doesn't have it listed for sale yet, having initially planned to offer it as a late 2014 addition and now saying the car is on hold until an unnamed technical problem can be solved. We didn't notice anything particularly wrong with the example we drove, but Acura has been holding back products lately to make sure they're right before hitting the market, and we suspect this is another example of that in action. The Sport Hybrid system, whenever it does go on sale, is a pretty ingenious setup. A hybridized V-6 drives the front wheels, while an all-electric rear differential with two motors sends torque to the rear wheels, recreating digitally the all-wheel-drive wonder that Acura has for so long been able to create with its mechanical Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. The engineering smarts extend to the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission up front, which uses the rear electric motors to get things going from a stop, which avoids the tendency of dual-clutches to step off in a jerky, unluxurious way. The result of all this is refinement and superb handling, with all-electric torque vectoring at the rear to keep the car stable and aid turn-in. While performance is the priority over fuel efficiency with this hybrid system, it still boosts mileage--to 28 mpg city and 32 highway.

Size is a factor Acura hopes will appeal to RLX lookers. It remains about the same size as the outgoing RL sedan, although overhang has been shortened somewhat and the wheelbase is two inches longer—which together with two more inches of width, in all, means more passenger space inside. The front seats are supple and trimmed in very rich leather, but rear headroom is scant for tall adults, and trunk space is only average.

Safety is again a focus for Acura's flagship sedan. The brand's first application of Lane Keep Assist is available, and all RLX sedans have standard Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning. In addition to the usual roster of safety features and airbags, the 2015 RLX includes a driver's front knee bag. Acura is expecting top five-star scores from the federal government, although they aren't out yet. But it is already an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+ vehicle, with top ratings in every category. The optional adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping systems even work together as a follow function: the RLX will steer itself at low speeds behind another car, say, in stop-and-go traffic. The system isn't as well calibrated as it is in other vehicles, though; its closest setting is still too far away for tight traffic, letting others cut in front which then sets it off into aggressive braking to keep the distance.

The non-hybrid RLX is offered in five trim levels for 2015: RLX, RLX with Navigation, RLX with Technology package, RLX with Krell Audio package, and RLX with Advance package. All have an extensive list of features, including dual LCD displays for infotainment functions, while upper trim levels get the AcuraLink Communication system and the Aha streaming-audio interface, as well as an expanded range of infotainment and connectivity features based on smartphone integration. The navigation system includes surface-street traffic, and security features include stolen vehicle tracking, airbag deployment notification remote locking and unlocking, and 24-hour concierge services.

Front-drive 2015 RLX models start from just under $50,000, while the top Advance crests the $60,000 mark. Pricing for the Sport Hybrid model hasn't yet been announced.

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